Quarterly Takeaways: Mixed results for the Lady Eagles in their first pair of matches

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In line with the ongoing University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Women’s Football tournament, this quarterly series will analyze the state of the Ateneo Lady Eagles in their bid to claim their first championship.

First Quarter Recap (February 3 to 10)

The Ateneo Women’s Football Team (AWFT) started the season in fine fashion, defeating their Katipunan-based rivals, University of the Philippines (UP) in a thrilling season-opener on February 3, at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila. Goals from rookie defender Icee Calimbo, and veteran forwards Martie Bautista and Tessa Bernardo were enough to cancel out an amazing strike from Maria Eloisa Malmis to give Ateneo all three points in their 3-1 victory.

Their second fixture in the tournament, played against University of Santo Tomas (UST), however, ended in defeat for the Lady Eagles. Bernardo managed to open the scoring in the second half with a free kick into the top corner, but UST claimed all three points via goals from Shela Cadag and Charisa Lemoran to run out as 1-2 winners.

Upcoming opponent

The AWFT will face the Far Eastern University (FEU) Lady Tamaraws on February 14, 3:00 PM, at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila. FEU will be aiming to keep their perfect UAAP record after recording a 3-1 win over UST via a brace from Jovelle Sudaria and a goal from Jean Kadil.

Quarterly Takeaways

1. Tactical pragmatism

The Lady Eagles set up identically in both matches, reaping the rewards of free flowing football in their match against UP, but struggling to replicate their dangerous and fast-paced attacks in their fixture against UST. The stark contrast between the team’s dominance against a strong UP side and their frailty against UST came down to their tactical effectiveness, or lack thereof, against each of these sides.

The Lady Maroons were caught out by forwards Bautista and Bernardo because UP afforded the AWFT center midfield duo of Jolly Catedrilla and Pam Diaz much time to pull the strings from deep. In comparison, UST employed a high defensive line and were constantly pressing in dangerous positions to limit the creativity of a notably less comfortable Ateneo midfield.

Ateneo did have some tactical contingencies in place for such an event. Team Captain Nona Amoncio shifted temporarily to the fullback position for the more attack-minded Nicole Bugayong while the midfield tightened as both wingers restricted their forward runs while Bernardo played a little deeper.

These changes were moderately effective in neutralizing the potent attacking threat of UST, but there were other pressing tactical changes that were left unaddressed during the match–utilizing wide players and changing the distribution from goal kicks.

The Lady Eagles found success in hitting balls over the top against UP, but could not find a breakthrough against UST. A resolute and vertically-superior UST defense easily negated this tactic as they won most of their defensive headers or overpowered Bautista and Bernardo to win the ball and pass it out of danger.

Because UST was set on a high-pressure game, their wingers and fullbacks defended very narrowly. Amoncio often cleverly wandered into acres of space during the few Ateneo attacks, but UST’s pressing normally pressured the Blue and White side to hoof balls over the top for Bautista to chase or Bernardo to hold up instead of into the free space. The Lady Eagles have this option at their disposal if their initial attacking tactical approach fails to yield dividends.

A more worrying aspect of the Lady Eagles’ game is their choice of distribution from goal kicks. While Calimbo normally steps up to take the duty off goalkeeper Mariane Caparros and launches balls just into the opposition half, the rookie defender’s goal kicks grew shorter and shorter as the match against UST wore on–understandably so given her contributions during the match.

A receptive Golden Tigress offense realized this and overloaded areas where Calimbo’s kicks normally landed. This increased UST’s chances of winning the ball and starting an attack while Ateneo’s defense was positioned high up the pitch and Calimbo was playing the opposition forward line onside. The Lady Eagles will need to be receptive and proactive in situations such as these to minimize their chances of conceding goals from them. The Lady Eagles will need to be able to change their tactics in an instant to better suit the teams they play against.

2. Golden goalkeeping

Lady Eagle goalkeeper Mariane Caparros showed off her refined overall play during the AWFT’s championship run in the Pilipinas Cup 2017 last October where she claimed the Most Valuable Player Award and most of the plaudits. Two games into the new UAAP season, she has continued her strong form between the stick for the Blue and White.

Although she seemed to have trouble dealing with high balls into the box in Season 79, Caparros has already shown her strength and confidence in claiming high balls in her area this season. The Lady Eagle has also been quicker off her line and more of a vocal presence in goal this term.

 

Despite losing to the Golden Tigresses, Caparros kept her side in the match with a superb goalkeeping display. She kept the scores level just before halftime when she saved a penalty. She then denied UST’s quickfire attempts on goal after the restart as she rushed off her line to claim confidently.

While the Lady Eagle will be disappointed to have not yet recorded a clean sheet this season–beaten only three powerful strikes on target, Caparros is the backbone of the AWFT defense and can lead her team to a coveted first championship title if she can remain in form.

3. Mastering the midfield

Central midfielders Pam Diaz and Jolly Catedrilla are undoubtedly crucial cogs in the system of the Lady Eagles. Diaz acts as the creative force of the team, while Catedrilla, a defender converted midfielder, acts as a critical cover for the defense.

When opposition teams like UST press high up the pitch, Diaz and Catedrilla must sit deeper to protect their backline, nullifying their chances to start quick breakaway goals–the most effective goal-scoring blueprint for the Blue and White thus far. Unshackle the two midfielders–as seen in the UP fixture–and either can create or even go for goal on the other end of the pitch.

With the attacking spark likely to come from either of the two central midfielders, it will be crucial for the Lady Eagles to support both Diaz and Catedrilla while not in possession. The wide midfielders will need to offer cover for Diaz and Catedrilla while the team will also likely need to play narrower when defending to force opposition attacks into the flanks instead of having them pass in the middle of the park.

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